This year, the theme for International Women's Day is #BreakTheBias, working towards a gender equal world. In the second of two blog posts from BPI to mark the day, Sophie Jones, Director of Public Affairs, discusses what more can be done to help break the bias. 

I’ve been lucky.  I’ve made my way as a working woman into fascinating jobs, doing stuff I care about and, most importantly, with brilliant role models (men and women) who have inspired, motivated and supported me. 

And yet, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.  Am I good enough, taken seriously enough?  And let’s not pretend the woman (all too often singular) in room isn’t the one expected to pour the coffee or take the notes.  And then there’s the persistent guilt of whether I’m doing my work job and my mum job well enough, feeling all too often I’m not doing either well (and that’s before even thinking about the ironing pile).

I’m only too aware that talking about gender bias shouldn’t be all about women as mothers.  I say that having spent many, many more years as a working woman without a child than as a mum.  That came more than 15 years after being asked in an early job interview if I was planning to have children anytime soon. 

But the fact is, women do tend to assume more of the caring and parenting roles outside of the day job – and, I don’t know, perhaps we generally seek a different balance.  At best this makes juggling things more complicated, at worst it downright holds us back.  From getting that promotion, pay rise or the confidence to apply for the next job; from changing the culture, addressing the gaping pay gap, from becoming the role models for the next generation.   These are all part of the cycle we need to break.

But I’m an optimist – and there are three big things that can help liberate women to succeed more:

First, let’s work harder at creating role models. Of course, that’s about visible and vocal women to inspire and motivate; but it’s also about ensuring men actively engage in supporting women to succeed.  Mentoring really helps here – developing deeper and more mutual understanding of each other can pave the way to progression.  It supports not only women and but equality in other walks of life.  I’ve learnt huge amounts about myself from mentoring, both as mentor and mentee. But it needs to be done well, and it’s why I’m excited to be starting a new mentoring programme with the BPI this week. 

Second, we need to put a stop to the behaviours of bullying, intimidation and fear that infiltrate all walks of life.  Women need confidence, not to feel afraid, belittled or judged.   It’s why I’m so committed to putting in place a shared understanding and set of commitments of what is and isn’t ok.   It’s saying we’ll call out and take action against bullying, harassment and discrimination, and first and foremost straining every sinew to stop it happening at all.

Third, let’s embrace this moment of deep change in our ways of working.  For all the pain of the pandemic, there is a glimmer of light in creating working environments that better support women.  I spent many months in a previous role developing an agile working policy – encountering obstacles and nervousness in such big cultural change. But it’s a change that enables women to find more work-life balance – and can alleviate the pressure on them with other family members now also able to take on more shared responsibilities. While there’s much that’s missed by working remotely, let’s harness this new found freedom and trust that is enabling women to grow in their roles. And, I have no doubt, is a key to us achieving our true potential.